Scientists use Twitter to track mental illness trends
A research team at Johns Hopkins turned to Twitter to study mental illness in geographic areas. After previously using algorithms to track the spread of flu based on comments on Twitter, the scientists took a similar approach to analyzing mental health trends based on 8 billion tweets on Twitter.
They found a strong relationship between areas of high-unemployment and depression, as well as strong cases of PTSD near areas with military bases that deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither of those findings is surprising, the research showed that tracking Twitter could be an effective tool for collecting location-based mental health data.
The researchers said this approach also could help psychologists investigate the language associated with certain mental health problems. The goal would be to use this language to address the role of stigma plays with mental illness, based on the way people talk about it.
Researchers did note that using a social platform like Twitter has its limits. The representation of the illnesses may be skewed based on the amount of people that may not use Twitter, or feel comfortable about discussing their illness online. Twitter may also not be as effective in monitoring illnesses that aren't as well known or discussed.